Revered by emperors and sages alike, and associated in oriental culture with happiness, health and good fortune, Reishi’s extensive health benefits have led to it being known as the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’ or ‘10,000 Year Mushroom’ (Mannentake), with annual sales of over US$2.5 billion.
Although primarily cultivated in China and east Asia, Reishi species grow widely throughout Europe and North America, with the original description of Ganoderma lucidum being based on material collected in London, U.K. in 1781
Reishi has traditionally been associated with the Taoist quest for immortality, as well as being used to treat a range of health conditions, including: cancer, low immunity, heart disease and bronchitis.
Cancer– Reishi has a long history of use in cancer treatment with many reports of spontaneous remission 2.
Although both polysaccharides and triterpenes contribute to Reishi’s anti-cancer action, clinical trials have focussed exclusively the more easily characterised polysaccharide extracts, with a recent review of 5 randomised controlled trials indicating that patients given Reishi polysaccharide extracts were 1.27 times more likely to respond positively to chemo/radiotherapy than those without 3. At the same time, Reishi’s triterpenes also show extensive anticancer activity, inhibiting cancer cell growth, inducing apoptosis (cell death) and, in the case of prostate cancer cells, blocking androgen receptors 4
Allergies– Reishi’s combination of high immuno-modulatory activity with strong anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine activity make it a uniquely suitable supplement for those suffering from allergies such as hayfever (allergic rhinitis) 5.
By addressing both the underlying immune imbalance that predisposes the body to overreacting to pollen or other allergens, as well as the histamine-mediated inflammatory responses that result, it can be used to both help alleviate the symptoms and prevent their development.
Auto-immune disease– Reishi’s combination of immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory action also makes it a useful supplement for a range of inflammatory auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis or ulcerative colitis.
Insomnia/anxiety– The traditional name ‘spirit mushroom’ points to the sedative action of Reishi’s triterpenoid components. Improvements in sleep patterns are one of the most commonly reported effects of Reishi supplementation and it is frequently prescribed for this purpose 6.
Liver disease– Reishi has long been a popular traditional treatment for liver diseases and demonstrates wide hepatoprotective properties, including:
● Protection from chemical toxicity
● Inhibition of liver fibrosis
● Normalisation of liver enzymes
● Reduction in inflammation
Cardiovascular health– Traditionally used in the treatment of heart disease, Reishi has been shown to support cardiovascular health through cholesterol-lowering, blood-pressure lowering and anticoagulant effects, with improvements in ECG, chest pain, palpitations and shortness of breath reported in one randomized, double-blind, multi-centred study using a polysaccharide extract at 5.4g/day 7.
Respiratory health– As well as its benefits for cardiovascular health, Reishi has traditionally been used to treat bronchitis, with older patients showing particular benefit.
Its anti-allergic properties mean that it is helpful for allergic asthma, while Chinese studies also report alleviation of altitude sickness 8.
Notes – Classically differentiated according to six different colours, today virtually all cultivated Reishi is Red Reishi, with the term Duanwood Red Reishi sometimes being used to refer to cultivation on whole logs, as opposed to cultivation on ‘logs’ made of compressed sawdust.
Reishi’s wide-ranging health benefits are due to its combination of highly active immune-modulating polysaccharides and over 130 triterpenoid compounds (primarily ganoderic and lucidenic acids), with actions including: anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, sedative, anti-hypertensive and anti-cancer 1
Supplementation levels of Reishi products can vary considerably owing to the range of product types available. Most trials using polysaccharide extract have been at 5.4g/day, while daily consumption of pure Reishi powder can be considerably higher. Products combining Reishi polysaccharides and triterpenes typically have dosage ranges of 1-3g/day, Reishi sporoderm-broken spore products 3-5g/day and Reishi spore oil extracts 500-1,500mg/day
1. Ganoderma – a therapeutic fungal biofactory. Paterson R.R. Phytochemistry. 2006;67(18):1985-2001.
2. Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence. Yuen J.W, Gohel M.D. Nutr Cancer. 2005;53(1):11-7.
3. Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment. Jin X, Ruiz Beguerie J, Sze DM, Chan GC. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;6:CD007731.
4. Ganoderma lucidum and its pharmaceutically active compounds. Boh B, Berovic M, Zhang J, Zhi-Bin L. Biotechnol Annu Rev. 2007;13:265-301.
5. The use of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in the management of Histamine-mediated allergic responses. Powell M. The Nutrition Practitioner. October 2004.
6. A preliminary study on the sleep-improvement function of the effective ingredients of Ganoderma lucidum fruitbody. Jia W, Wu M, Zhang J.S, Liu Y.F. Acta Edulis Fungi. 2005;12(3):43-47.
7. A phase I/II study of ling zhi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W.Curt.:Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extract in patients with coronary heart disease. Gao Y, Chen G, Dai X, Ye J, Zhou S. Int J Med Mushrooms 2004;6(4):30.
8. Medicinal Mushrooms – An Exploration of Tradition, Healing and Culture. Hobbs C. 1986. Pub. Botanica Press, Williams. p. 96-107.